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Flu Season: Time to Get Vaccinated

Posted on Sep 29, 2015 in Prevention and Wellness

 

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The flu (influenza) is serious business. Worse than a cold, the flu is highly contagious and can result in a severe illness with a high fever, cough, achiness, fatigue and sore throat. Every year the flu results in many hospitalizations and deaths. It is especially dangerous for the elderly, people with weakened immune systems or chronic health issues, pregnant women and babies.

So what can you do to protect yourself and your family?

“To prevent getting the flu, everyone 6 months and older should get vaccinated against influenza every year,” says Kim Erlich, M.D., medical director of Infection Control and Prevention at Mills-Peninsula Health Services. “The vaccine not only prevents you from getting the flu if you are exposed, but it also helps stop the spread of the disease. If everyone gets vaccinated it protects everyone else in the community, including those who are most at risk of dying from flu.”

Flu Vaccine Choices
Flu vaccines are formulated each year based on predictions from leading health organizations such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization about which strains of influenza virus will be circulating during the upcoming flu season.

“This year we are very optimistic that there is a good match, and we are already seeing that some of the strains that are circulating are identical to what is in this year’s vaccine,” Dr. Erlich says. “This year’s vaccine should offer good protection.”

Myths about the flu vaccine abound, but the vaccine is safe and effective. The flu vaccine does not cause the flu, and vaccine side effects are mild, and may include soreness and swelling at the injection site.

In addition to the standard-strength shot, a high-dose influenza vaccine is available for seniors 65 years and older, which may offer more protection for this higher risk group. For those who are squeamish about needles, a nasal spray (FluMist) is another option and is approved for healthy people aged 2 through 49 years of age who are not pregnant. In this case, healthy means that you don’t have a medical condition that could cause complications from the flu nasal spray. If you are severely allergic to eggs or any of the vaccine components, check with your doctor about your vaccine options.

What to Do During Flu Season
Flu viruses are mainly spread by droplets that come from infected people when they cough, sneeze or talk. You may also get the flu by touching a surface or object that has the flu virus on it and then touching your mouth, eyes or nose.

Practice good hand hygiene by washing your hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds or by using alcohol-based hand sanitizer. Also, when sneezing or coughing, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue, or cough or sneeze into your elbow.

“If you get the flu, stay home,” Dr. Erlich says. “We recommend people with flu practice social isolation and stay away from other people, especially people at highest risk. After your flu symptoms have resolved and you no longer have a fever without using medications such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen, stay home an additional 24 to 48 hours to prevent spreading it to others.”

If you are in one of the high risk groups, such as elderly or immune compromised, and you get the flu, contact your doctor. Treatment with anti-viral drugs, such as Tamiflu, can help lessen the severity and duration of the flu.

photosKim Erlich, M.D. is medical director of Infection Control and Prevention at Mills-Peninsula Health Services.